Make Fort Sumter a national park

Surely the site where the first shots of the Civil War were fired deserves the status of a national park. Maybe Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., has the unique credibility to make that happen.

Scott announced last week he would introduce a bill that would create the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Park as the nation’s 60th national park. Congaree National Park near Columbia currently is the only park in the state with that designation.

The forts already comprise the Fort Sumter National Monument, one of 84 national monuments and 413 sites administered by the National Park Service. But Scott believes a national park designation would give the forts a higher profile and lure more visitors.

“What we hope to do is bring more attention,” Scott said. “People know the first shots of the Civil War but they don’t necessarily know the history dating back to the first years of our country and the significance Fort Moultrie played.”

Fort Sumter, on Charleston Harbor, was shelled by Confederate guns on April 12, 1861, marking the beginning of four years of civil war. Fort Moultrie, located on nearby Sullivans Island, is where American patriots repelled a British fleet bent on capturing Charleston days before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Both forts are rich with historical significance and deserving of national park status. While the designation would bring no more federal budget money, it undoubtedly would help spark the interest of visitors, especially those who are determined to visit every national park.

The site now attracts 1 million visitors a year. But, as Tim Stone, superintendent of the Fort Sumter National Monument, notes, many people plan their travels around visiting national parks, and an online search of South Carolina now brings up only Congaree National Park.

The late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, another South Carolina Republican, introduced legislation similar to Scott’s in 2004. But the fact that Thurmond once was an outspoken segregationist was problematic, and the bill died in committee.

Scott, the first black U.S. senator from the deep South since Reconstruction, might be in a better position to bring both sides of the aisle together and get the bill passed.

“South Carolina has a provocative history,” said the former congressman. “Perhaps part of that history is me representing in Congress the site where the Civil War began and now as a senator hopefully making it into a park.”

We hope that the debate is not bogged down with in political controversy over the role both sides played in the Civil War. The histories of both forts can be portrayed fairly and objectively, as they have been while the forts have been designated as a national monument.

This historical site both belongs to the nation and represents an important role in its origins. It deserves to be named the 60th national park.